For Heather Rivera, AM’05; Jonathan Kim, AB’21, AM’21; and “Cherry” Yue Ying, AB’21, AM’21, humanistic training has been an asset to their technology careers, providing all three with skills and perspectives that set them apart.

Heather Rivera, AM’05
Vice president of strategy, corporate development, and partnerships at Instacart

When Heather Rivera told her boss that she was planning to leave a promising career in banking to pursue a master’s degree in the humanities, “he looked at me like I had four heads.”

But she was sure of her choice. “The common thread throughout all of my experiences, which remains today, is learning,” Rivera says. “The way I made my career decisions was really based on where I felt like I was going to learn.”

And Rivera felt a pull toward art history, which she’d discovered during her senior year at the University of Virginia and wanted to understand more deeply. UChicago’s Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH), which offered both breadth and depth, was a perfect match.

A grant from the Karla Scherer Foundation made the decision to go back to school less daunting. The support from Karla Scherer, AM’99— who, like Rivera, had a career in business before earning a humanities degree—“is a great example of women leaders opening the door for other women to become leaders.”

While Rivera ultimately decided against a career in academia, her experience at UChicago taught her to trust herself. “It built up my confidence that I could ramp up quickly on any subject,” she says, “because if you can read through Heidegger and have some sense of what he’s talking about, you can do most anything.”

The curiosity and broad base of knowledge she gained through the MAPH helped fuel Rivera’s nearly 15-year career at Google, where she rose from a strategic partner manager for Google Checkout to vice president and global head of product partnerships for YouTube. Today, she’s helping to build the corporate strategy function and bolster the corporate development and partnerships teams at Instacart, the leading online grocery platform in North America.

Often Rivera’s work has involved acting as a translator between the engineering and business sides of a company—a capability she traces back to her humanities training, which taught her to debate, think critically, and see multiple sides of a given issue. “Those are not necessarily skills I had honed up to that point,” she says. “And they have served me well, in business and in life.”

While Rivera didn’t originally envision a career in technology, she’s stayed for the ability to work on projects with wide influence. “Tech scales across boundaries, whether it’s geographical boundaries or socioeconomic boundaries and more,” she says. “The impact you can have is outsized.”

And there’s certainly a place for humanists in it all. “Even if you don’t have formal engineering training,” she notes, “you can absolutely add value. People who bring good listening skills, critical thinking, and questioning are so vital to any discussion.”

Jonathan Kim, AB’21, AM’21
Software engineer, McMaster-Carr

As a classics major in the College, Jonathan Kim would often think about how to translate Latin in the most direct and elegant way possible, finding ways to capture both the ideas and the language. Today, as a software engineer for the industrial distributor McMaster-Carr, he finds himself asking much the same question: “Is there a more efficient way to express the idea that you have in your code?”

The leap from the wisdom of the ancients to the technology of the present might seem big, but for Kim the two have always been related. Early in his UChicago coursework, he learned that “contrary to the popular imagination, classics has a very rich history in the digital humanities. It’s really at the forefront of a lot of technological innovations in academia.” For his thesis in Digital Studies of Language, Culture, and History—a master’s program founded in 2017—Kim used natural language processing to analyze Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, thought to be the only ancient Roman novel to survive in its entirety.

That project helped Kim demonstrate his programming chops to prospective employers—and allowed him to show how his humanities background might be relevant to their work. Today, “I’m excited to be working with data that’s very different from the sort of data that I worked with in college,” he says. “I really enjoy using programming to help people make easier and better decisions about the work they do.”

Despite the change in subject matter, Kim often draws on his academic background. Pursuing a humanities degree, he says, “was really helpful, because it taught me to look at problems holistically and from different perspectives, and to see how they relate to what you already know”—an especially useful skill set in a profession that relies on constant problem-solving.

Humanists eyeing careers as coders shouldn’t worry that they’ll stick out, Kim says. In his department, surprisingly few people have degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. His colleagues don’t see his path as odd or unusual. In fact, “they’re more interested in why I chose to be a classics major. Their perceptions are, ‘Oh, that’s really cool.’”

“Cherry” Yue Ying, AB’21, AM’21
Financial analyst, Google

When she enrolled at UChicago, Cherry Ying thought she would probably end up working in finance like her parents. But a conference at Google early in her college career set her on a new course.

“I bonded with Googlers right away,” Ying says. “What they value is similar to what I value: contributing to society and making an impact.” The summer after her third year in the College, Ying did an internship at Google that further cemented her sense that it was the right company for her.

In the meantime, alongside her economics coursework, she took classes on video game design, app design, HTML, JavaScript, and CSS—ultimately finding herself with a minor in media arts and design and a master’s in digital studies. “I was just taking classes that I was interested in,” Ying says. “And it turned out they were all under this one minor.”

The combination of Ying’s technical, financial, and analytic skills suits her role as a financial analyst, which involves forecasting revenues, tracking expenses, and strategic financial planning. “The digital studies program is very much about applying technology to different fields,” she says. “That’s exactly what I’m doing now—I’m applying the technology and the tools that I learned in my courses to solve all these big ambiguous questions that we face at Google.”

Although working in tech wasn’t her original plan, Ying now sees herself staying in the industry. “There’s so much innovation,” she says. “We get to invent new things, and that’s exciting to me.”

Photo Creds: 
Photography by Eric Hubbard